David Henig Profile picture
UK Director @ecipe Brexit & global trade, Co-founder @uktradeforum Perspectives column @BorderlexEditor, @CavendishAdv @UKTradeBusiness. Music, sport, etc. DMs
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30 Jul
What is the reason for the optimism bias that meant the UK government thought they'd know how to beat the EU in negotiations, Ireland wasn't going to be important? And after 5 years of failure, why haven't we still understood?
Yes I had the advantage of 3 years of phone calls from the US about how horrible it was negotiating with the EU, but this really shouldn't have been a difficult message to understand. Few third countries have got the better of the EU in negotiations.
I suppose it gets to the heart of the Brexit view of the EU as both an evil empire bent on domination and an organisation permanently on the verge of collapse with just one push. I'd just hoped we could leave the nonsense behind at some point, but it seems too ingrained.
Read 5 tweets
29 Jul
Picking fights with the EU as a member state is one of the few things they have in common. Doing so as a third country is a completely different proposition, not nearly as painless, and the UK government hasn't learnt the difference. politico.eu/article/boris-…
So much of what I and fellow trade wonks write that the simplists profess as anti-EU is actually pointing out the difference between being a Member State and a third country. We used to blame the EU then get our way. That hasn't happened since 2016, and won't very often.
Still suspect that Ministers are surprised that they no longer attend Brussels summits in which the UK largely achieve our aims. Wasn't a great preparation for the largely horrid experience of being a third country where even the US doesn't get that.
Read 5 tweets
28 Jul
One final pre-summer column for @BorderlexEditor ahead of an August break, and this week I look at UK government consultation on trade policy - plenty of structures, but seemingly no great desire to use them to genuinely engage. To increasing annoyance. borderlex.net/2021/07/28/per…
So why is the UK government not genuinely engaging with stakeholders on trade policy? In rough order, lack of trust, erroneous belief negotiations have to be entirely secret, and no wish to listen to dissenting voices. We see clear evidence of each of these. As do business. Image
Does it actually matter if the UK government isn't particularly concerned about listening to stakeholders? Yes, if it means you miss detail in a final agreement (many in TCA), or risk rejection of your approach (Australia FTA). borderlex.net/2021/07/28/per…
Read 4 tweets
27 Jul
Just engaging with a few Brexit ultras. It appears that they have still learned nothing of trade, Ireland, international relations, even the size of the UK compared to the EU. The government talks that talk, but to walk it would mean economic isolation, which they can't do.
Though not a phrase used often, to be fair to Boris Johnson he managed to betray Brexit ultras and the DUP over Northern Ireland and a trade deal while making them think he was their hero, and keeps doing so. Any other Conservative leader would be in big trouble over Brexit.
Which again is why we are at a stalemate over Northern Ireland, Frost and Johnson have to do the macho talk to please the ultras, but can't afford to actually start a trade war and lose Nissan and the European supply chains. All pretty unstable though.
Read 6 tweets
26 Jul
So what's the overall approach to Chinese investment in the UK? Or EU, or US? And to trade ties, are we assuming future de-linkage, or is this simply not possible? What would it mean for global institutions? Big questions, shortage of answers. ft.com/content/c4a3fe…
No, I don't have the magical answer as to future relations between Europe / North America and China either. I'm just concerned that the general strategy seems to be a large shrug and hoping for the best.
Shipping container rates, another complex story about which we know far too little. But at this rate, build shipping containers.
Read 5 tweets
26 Jul
Spot on. The continued refusal to take Northern Ireland trade issues seriously in government and among cheerleaders has become symbolic of their lack of understanding of the world as it is, as opposed to how they think it should work.
The FT is not mincing words though failing to come to terms with the fact that compromise with a UK government that simply refuses to take trade realities seriously is not possible. ft.com/content/2f3437…
Suspect the EU also realise that time as well as international economic power is on their side over Northern Ireland. The longer the UK government complain about Northern Ireland the more they remind people Brexit is not done. Take action, consequence. Go quiet, unionist anger.
Read 4 tweets
25 Jul
Have to credit @DavidGauke with almost carrying out an interview here with Dominic Cummings on various aspects of Brexit, trade and the Northern Ireland protocol. And indeed for clear answers.

However from a trade wonk point of view what these reveal is a worrying knowledge gap.
Quickly though on one point, there's no doubt this was right, triggering Article 50 without a plan or leverage was silly. But I don't think would have changed the situation wrt Northern Ireland and Brexit...
Problem is summed up here - Northern Ireland would have been a small part of the negotiation. That wouldn't have been the case because it goes to the heart of two Brexit issues - international relations, and trade. Fundamentally.
Read 11 tweets
25 Jul
Just the chairman of a major UK company whingeing about international trade being unfair, and making it the fault of nasty foreigners. Not surprising M&S is struggling with 'leadership' (and I use the term loosely) as bad as this.

Perhaps if M&S had a Chairman who understood international trade it could have started making preparations for inevitable changes ahead of time?
Apparently Norman gets a salary of at least £600k for being M&S Chairman. Maybe a small deduction to pay for some trade expertise would be a better use of the company's money?
Read 5 tweets
25 Jul
A small straw in the wind to see arch old school Republican / free trader Irwin Stelzer support the EU carbon border adjustment mechanism, as well as a UK version. Shows again how out of touch the UK government is on international economy issues.
There is an urgent need for the UK government to lose a long outdated view of free trade as being about the absence of tariffs and engage with the actual world of non tariff barriers, global supply chains, and broader policy goals. Unlikely though while having the same advisers.
I suspect the UK will be forced to adopt our own carbon border pricing scheme very soon, overtaking the rather unimpressive green trade report of earlier this week. Because international political reality. Again.
Read 4 tweets
24 Jul
Lots of stories and tweets about shortages of food, and whether this is all about Brexit, covid, or a combination. In the last week I've seen one local supermarket overflowing and one with bare shelves. But the latter, a truly dreadful Tesco, often has those. So what's happening?
Sorry if you've heard this one before, but if you're running hugely complex modern supply chains, and throw in major changes to trade relations and labour market at the same time as a pandemic then some disruption is pretty likely. But generally we don't seem to have shortages.
Away from the excitable worlds of extreme remain and leave, seemingly only different in what happens after the country entirely collapses, lies the dull reality of global giants maintaining their supply chains as best they can around political change. Harder post Brexit, but...
Read 7 tweets
23 Jul
Basic millenarianism, the belief particularly common among cults of an impending fundamental transformation away from a rotten and doomed present. Average success rate, very low. But always more superficially attractive than gradualism.
Brexit as the path to fundamental societal transformation is particularly fragile given you immediately enter a permanent negotiation with a much larger neighbour dominated by small details upon which your economic structure depends.
Back to the classic Kafka quote, "Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy." Brexit as a revolution is leaving behind an expanded UK state because that's the global trend, the EU wasn't the unique evil after all.
Read 4 tweets
23 Jul
It is indeed interesting that in October 2019 the UK government's own impact assessment on the Northern Ireland protocol simply states that there will be extra costs for movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
This section from Wednesday's UK government paper seems to be deliberately misleading - the further discussions were on the exact administration of the checks, not their existence, which were known.
The UK government knew in October 2019 of the checks that would be put in place on GB - Northern Ireland goods. To suggest otherwise is simply a lie. A lie which in turn, by blaming the EU instead, makes serious negotiation impossible, because there can be no goodwill.
Read 4 tweets
23 Jul
Sense in the last few years that Ministers didn't really understand that trade deals could be controversial, thought all opponents were simple protectionists, didn't really understand the changing world. That's starting to bite. ft.com/content/fbc38c…
All made worse by the first UK trade deal being with Australia, whose climate change denial was never going to allow linkage of huge gains for their agriculture sector with that issue or animal welfare. A strategic error with likely longer term consequences for UK trade.
It is simply not consistent for the UK government to say it is concerned about climate change or animal welfare, but that those who wish to tie preferential trade to these issues are protectionists. The second means you don't actually care about the first.
Read 4 tweets
22 Jul
I was asked a few times yesterday where I saw discussions on the Northern Ireland protocol heading, and the simple answer is that we're right now in an unsatisfactory but not completely unstable equilibrium between all parties, which could endure. politico.eu/article/brusse…
The EU thinks the UK is not implementing the protocol properly, taking account of EU flexibility, but ultimately should align. The UK thinks the EU is not implementing the protocol properly, taking account of UK implementation, and ultimately should allow a border free-for-all.
As long as the UK does not invoke Article 16 or the EU more serious legal action, then they can uncomfortably for both sides carry on as is - both unhappy it isn't being done to their specification, but both in particular not upsetting the US by going further.
Read 7 tweets
21 Jul
The UK government's Northern Ireland statement in short - rewrite history as to how we got here, whinge about the impact with a handful of select figures, suggest preposterous and shallow honesty scheme to replace almost the entire protocol, threaten Article 16 later.
It is another fundamentally unserious document from the UK government with regard to Northern Ireland, taking the debate backwards and lowering trust. Obviously the proposals would be unacceptable to anyone, which leads to what happens in September. Conflict or climbdown?
Teaser alert - the largest section in the UK government's Northern Ireland command paper is on how we got to the current position. In case that provides a clue as to whether the emphasis is more on self-justification or practical solutions.
Read 22 tweets
21 Jul
Insofar as I've been able to read until the paywall kicks in, more on the rapidly changing global trade debate, in which conditionality is increasingly threatening non-discrimination (although they may not be mutually exclusive) - driven by the EU and US.
It is the contrast between the active global trade debate on conditionality, and the UK's nice tariff and market distortion obsessions that is so disappointing. We could have played a part in the debate, as a new entrant, but chose instead to look back 50 years.
A sensible UK contribution to the new debate on conditional trade would have been to accept the necessity, but insist on the retention of broad principles such as non-discrimination and open trade. In other words, to use open trade to incentivise positive results.
Read 6 tweets
21 Jul
No better evidence of the extent to which UK trade thinking is outdated and out of kilter with global thinking than this Board of Trade report on Green Trade. As the EU and US discuss carbon border taxes, we propose, well nothing really... gov.uk/government/pub…
In so far as there is an argument in this Board of Trade report, it seems to be that reducing tariffs can encourage green trade because of specialisation. Which is not necessarily true (or false), new, or in any way groundbreaking.
In the trade policy community the particular joke on the UK government is that everything has to be connected to "anti-competitive market distortions", a simplistic universal notion pushed by a couple of advisers, dismissed as obvious and unimportant everywhere else.
Read 5 tweets
21 Jul
Marks and Spencer did not have a good Brexit transition, failing to get products to stores in France, and it looks like the reason might be that the Chairman does not understand international trade or the EU. bbc.co.uk/news/business-…
You wonder how much of the farce of repeated unacceptable UK government proposals on Northern Ireland are related to thinking the EU does borders wrong, even though only within the EU do you get no border checks, and every other country has them.
Simon tries to put a brave face on the farce, imagining what if someone had a bright idea that might resolve the NI protocol - well then we'd need to convince the EU... which is of course not happening.
Read 8 tweets
20 Jul
Weird interview. Not feeling better about the past, present, or future of this government. But as to who did what when, no idea...
Struggling to work out how leaving the EU to take back control and make things better was consistent with then putting someone you know to be hopeless as Prime Minister.
The gulf between the Cummings big picture and his detail is vast enough to explain rather a lot, from Brexit to covid to Johnson.
Read 4 tweets
20 Jul
To be honest 'new thinking' or indeed just 'thinking' would be welcome from the UK government with regard to the Northern Ireland protocol, as compared to the usual shallow analysis, reheated leftovers and empty threats. Expectations low.
As a believer in precedent in international relations I have a strong feeling I'm not going to enjoy the UK's latest proposal on Northern Ireland tomorrow.
As predicted on Northern Ireland, same old UK government denial of trade issues and threats to breach treaty laughably called a “wholesale change of approach”. Two years, same nonsense repeatedly. ft.com/content/c82a5d…
Read 11 tweets
20 Jul
The proposal to entirely reinvent international trade and the EU's single market as a solution to the Northern Ireland protocol makes an unwelcome reappearance. As implausible as it has been at any time over the last five years.
In brief, the idea is that the entire EU regulatory acquis for goods is enshrined in UK law, and the entire UK equivalent into the EU. These would then apply only to goods exported to the other party. A nightmare-ish bureaucratic proposition at heart.
We are then supposed to believe that borders are removed because regulations are the same, which doesn't work in the EU never mind anywhere else in the world. And that this would build trust. I'm entirely unsure how, sounds like a recipe for suspicion.
Read 13 tweets